What act or acts constitute “defamation”?
“Defamation of character” is just a fancy way of saying that someone hurt your reputation. If the defamation is in writing, it’s called libel. Spoken = slander. Theoretically, defamation can be a crime if it rises to the level of criminal harassment for example. But, normally, we treat defamation as a common law tort whose roots go all the way back to 1600’s England. As such, if you’ve been defamed, you can sue for damages.
In America, where the First Amendment reigns supreme, the law tries to balance competing notions that (1) people should not ruin others’ lives by defaming them; but (2) people should be able to speak freely without fear of litigation over every insult, disagreement, or mistake.
What do you need to prove to show defamation?
The law of defamation varies from state to state, but, in general, it’s relatively the same. To prove one’s been “defamed,” a plaintiff must prove that someone (1) published a defamatory statement about him/her; (2) that said statement was false; (3) that it was injurious to his/her reputation; and (4) that the statement was not privileged.
In Colorado, the elements are worded a bit differently. A plaintiff must prove that (1) a third party published, or caused to be published a defamatory statement; (2) that said statement was about the plaintiff; and (3) that the publication of the statement(s) caused special damages to the plaintiff.
1. First, the “statement” can be spoken, written, pictured, or even gestured. Because written statements last longer than spoken statements, libel can be considered more harmful than slander, depending on the circumstances of the case.
3. “Defamatory” A statement is defamatory of a person if it tends to harm the person’s reputation by lowering the person in the estimation of at least a substantial and respectable minority of the community. Necessarily, the statement must be false, however. The truth is always a defense against a charge of defamation.
4. There must be damages. If someone has defamed you, but there are no damages, what’s the point? In defamation per se cases, damages are presumed. In other defamation cases, you actually have to prove your “special damages.”
5. Privileged. Under some circumstances, you’re barred from suing someone for defamation even if they make a statement that can be proved false. For example, witnesses who testify falsely in court or at a deposition can’t be sued.
In Colorado, we have qualified and absolute privilege. We won’t go into those here.
It’s nearly impossible for public officials to sue for defamation.
When officials are accused of something that involves their behavior in office, and they want to sue for defamation, they not only have to satisfy the basic elements of a defamation claim, but they must also prove that the defendant acted with “actual malice.””
The same applies to movie stars and other “public figures.” People who aren’t elected but who are still public figures because they are influential or famous, e.g. movie stars, also have to prove that defamatory statements were made with actual malice, in most cases.
As you can see here a defamation of character act can almost be anything. If you or a loved one need defamation legal advice, do not hesitate to contact Marathon Law at 303-704-1222 to set up a case review.